The return of the magically odd and endlessly fascinating PhilaMOCA

PhilaMOCA is located at 531 N. 12th Street’s historic Finney & Son property.
Justin Roman

VHS film screenings and all-Philly video music festivals. David Lynch fan art exhibitions with the director in the room. Experimental performance art. Legendary punk and No Wave bands of the past and the present. The legendary host and neighbor Lil Sean reminding all visitors not to drink out front.

If you are a devoted fan of any and/or all-of-the-above, you have made the Eraserhood all-ages venue, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art — better known as PhilaMOCA — your home.

“I like to believe that people like us, people who like this sort of left-of-center aesthetic find each other, and flock together,” says Eric Bresler, the boss of PhilaMOCA.

Eric Bresler, the boss of PhilaMOCA, will make his debut as a performer-speaker on July 23 and 24.Arin Sang-urai

Located at 531 N. 12th Street’s historic Finney & Son property—an 1865-built mausoleum showroom purchased by Philadelphia DJ-recording artist Diplo for recording purposes and parties—the building became PhilaMOCA in 2012 when curator/booker Bresler turned it into a multipurpose art space showcasing the best in underground, alternative, and DIY culture with a concentration on film and performance.

“The mission is a mystery,” notes Bresler with laugh of the P-MOCA mystique and the venues 300+ events per year.

PhilaMOCA’s roll slowed to a full stop when, in September 2019, the venue was closed by L&I for fire safety concerns (resolved within 24 hours and immediately cleared from violation), zoning issues (“It seemed as if, after all that time, we weren’t zoned for live performance”), and a re-zoning process that took several months. A “Resurrect PhilaMOCA,” GoFundMe campaign was created for rent and utilities while the venue was closed, soundproofing upgrades and repairs to electrical systems and materials to meet new fire code regulations. Out of a $60,000 goal, so far “Resurrect PhilaMOCA” has raised $51,904.

“I can’t tell you how happy this made me; not just the money, but seeing how much love and support there was for what PhilaMOCA does,” says Bresler.

As all of the zoning work was being repaired, and fashioned anew (“It’s a shame; you can’t tell where all the money went because it was all structural work, heavy soundproof curtains and other necessities”), Covid-19 struck and pandemic quarantines stopped everything cold. Welcoming a new baby to his family, as well as buying a house – all simultaneously – Bresler views the pandemic as saving PhilaMOCA from possible permanent closure.

“Though the pandemic was so sad for so many, I think having the forced time off to do everything right made it possible for us to remain open, to be as active and productive as before.”

In May 2021, Bresler began participating in the West Poplar Neighborhood Association’s newly mounted cleanup program, and by June, was finally convinced that PhilaMOCA was ready to reopen in July – complete with the venue’s young mascot and host Lil Sean, now grown to become Big Sean at 19 years old.

David Lynch and Lil Sean are shown outside PhilaMOCA. Robert Hakalski

“He was forever this inner city kid who lived in our neighborhood, was gregarious and got involved with PhilaMOCA, helping me host events and keep people from drinking alcohol on our sidewalks,” says Bresler.

PhilaMOCA’s first events include a screening of the documentary film, “Mausoleum” on July 22, and Bresler’s own debut as a performer-speaker during a multimedia show dedicated to all things MOCA on July 23-24. Additional live shows include the venue’s first concert since 2019 with Philadelphia costumed hip hop-punks, Ghösh on July 31, and a two-night-stand with big deal local metallic ragers Sheer Mag on Aug. 27-28.

“I am absolutely over the moon to be back in action, me and PhilaMOCA,” says Bresler of this weekend’s re-opening back-to-back-to-back events. “It will be great seeing so many like-minded souls again, like a family. I would have done this for free, if I had to.”

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